Athyrium filix-femina (L.)

Lady fern


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Division - Pteridophyta (Ferns). Class - Filicopsida. Order - Polypodiales. Family - PDryopteridaceae (Wood Fern Family). Genus -Athyrium Roth. Species - Athyrium filix-femina (L.) Roth - common ladyfern.

General: Highly variable in appearance over its range, Subarctic lady fern is typically a large, clustered fern, 2-3 ft. tall. Its light-green color and twice-pinnate fronds with finely toothed leaflets create the illusion of a dainty fern, despite its large size. Stems are greenish-yellow to red.


Flower: Small, yellowish-green to yellow. Male and female flowers in separate inflorescences. Male flowers form a pendent catkin. Female catkins erect, cylindrical, and red. Female flowers lack perianth. Wind-pollinated.

Leaves: Elliptic to roundish, with a tapering tip, at least slightly pubescent. Margins doubly dentate, rarely incised. Veins 711. Upper side matt green, underside greyish.

Fire Response

Fire decrease lady fern cover and frequency on drier sites, but sprouting is likely on subhygric sites. Lady fern is top-killed by fire.


Lady fern reproduces by rhizomes and spores. The spores disperse from the sporangia (spore-bearing case), pictured above. Following the eruption of Mount St. Helens, lady fern sprouted from axillary buds of transported rhizomes.

Species Distribution


USDA Forest Service Fire Effects Information System (ATFI).
Walkup, Crystal J. 1991. Athyrium filix-femina. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: /database/feis/plants/fern/athfil/all.html [2017, January 25].

USDA Plants Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
Distribution Map photo credit

Flora of North America
Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 19+ vols. New York and Oxford

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Burke Museum. 2017. Athyrium filix-femina [Online]. University of Washington.
Photo credit: 2004, 2005, Ben Legler